How to Organize a Basketball Practice

Great teams aren’t made during scrimmages or games, and they’re not merely a product of great talent or X’s and O’s. Great teams develop through continuous team practice. And effective practices are organized by a prepared, disciplined, and enthusiastic coach.

Knowing how to coordinate and manage practices requires a few specific talents, such as:

  1. Organization
  2. Preparation
  3. Discipline
  4. Enthusiasm
  5. Teamwork

Coaches who can bring all five of these assets to every practice can turn average teams into good ones and good squads into great ones. Organizing practice can be simple, basic, and fun, as long as a few critical ingredients are added every time.


Practices should be regimented around a specific schedule that the players are familiar with and can rely on. It shouldn’t last longer than an hour and a half to two hours for high school and older players; middle school players and younger should practice for about an hour.

Your practice should consist of drills in five- to seven-minute increments. When participating in drills, players are more likely to give their maximum effort and attention from beginning to end when they know the drill will last for a specific and short period of time.

Mental Edge

It’s a good idea to write out your drills on 3 x 5 index cards and bring them to practice. When players see the index cards, they can expect that a drill is about to begin.


Create a specific schedule for each practice to follow. Let players know the practice procedure from the first practice of the pre-season, and make this procedure routine. Players prefer procedures that become routine because it’s easier to concentrate on drills and practice. A good schedule can follow the same general framework every time:

  • 10-minute warm-up: This can include light stretching and laps around the gym to increase flexibility and reduce the chance of injury.
  • Five- to seven-minute drills: Drills should be organized around your coaching objectives. For example, if your practice objective is to improve team defense, run drills that emphasize your defensive philosophy.
  • Set plays: Set aside time in practice — especially early in the season — to run set-play drills and to cover special situations.
  • Scrimmage: Leave time at the end of practice to scrimmage, emphasizing what was learned during practice.
  • 10-minute cool-down: Cool-downs should include light jogging and stretching, and they should finish exactly on time.


Each practice should be organized around a specific team philosophy. Within the team philosophy, each player should have a specific personal plan. That plan could involve improving as a defender, getting into better condition, or developing as a passer. Both team and individual objectives should be written down, along with results and progress.

In turn, practice drills should follow team and individual goals. Writing them down and communicating them to your players assures them that their effort and progress are important within the context of the team.

It’s also important to be sensitive to the team’s collective frame of mind. For example, shorten practice later in the year to keep the players’ legs fresh, or keep things light-hearted after a tough loss. Anticipation and goal-orientation are keys to good practice preparation.


Practice would be much more fun if it was solely light drills and scrimmaging. It should incorporate those exercises, but it also has to be work. As the coach, it’s your job to make sure it remains both fun and goal-oriented. This demands that you set forth and enforce certain rules.

Just as students have rules in the classroom, coaches must establish the rules of practice. Rules and their consequences must be communicated from the first practice in the pre-season. Effective team rules must include showing up on time, being prepared to work throughout practice, and giving 100 percent effort each time. Well-organized practices only happen when rules and procedures become part of the routine.

“If I was given eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend seven hours sharpening my axe.”

Abraham Lincoln
16th President of the United States of America


Loving what you do and doing what you love go hand-in-hand. As the team’s coach, you have to set the tone for enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean be demonstrative, wave your hands, and high-five your players. It’s important to be yourself. However, if you truly love what you do as a coach, your players will notice, and they’ll be more likely to share your enthusiasm.

Running drills should be exhausting and regimented, but it should also be fun. When running drills, it’s a good idea to remember these rules:

  • Keep players moving: Quickly move players from one drill to the next, and eliminate all lag time during drills. Avoid drills that let players stand around or wait for their turn. Make sure players are constantly moving during drills.
  • Let every player feel success: Players are happier when they’re winning. Drills that let players compete against each other are fun, but everyone on your team should feel the thrill of winning as often as possible.
  • Avoid monotony: Mix up your drills. Be imaginative and devise new drills to work on your objectives. You don’t want to ever hear, “Aww, again?” when explaining a drill.


Having good people around you is essential in life, as it is in basketball. Knowledgeable assistants and managers make practice go much more smoothly. When you have good people around you, be sure to let them help you organize and run practice.

It’s also important to emphasize teamwork at every turn. Drills and scrimmages naturally divide your roster. Find ways to bring everyone together at the beginning and end of every practice. It could be your team objectives, future schedule, or a funny story. Make sure to remind everyone that you’re all on the same page at least once each practice.

The Core of Your Team

Basing your practices around the team’s core objectives and philosophies is one of the keys to success. Practice can be very fun and productive when run properly. And in the end, basketball is all about enjoying the game.

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